Points East on the McKenzie River, Oregon
Editor’s Note: The following milepost numbers are approximations and begin after the junction of Scenic Hwy. 242 and Hwy. 126. When this section of Hwy. 126 (Clear Lake Cutoff) was completed the milepost numbers were changed and reflect distances west of the Hwy. 20/126 junction.
• MP 18.9: Belknap Springs was discovered by George Millican, John Craig, James Stormet, and Joseph Carter in 1859. A hotel and mineral bath operation was first opened in 1872. A modern, upscale resort and RV park is now at this site. The mineral springs range from 185-195 degrees and emit approximately 60 gallons per minute. Minerals found in the springs include iron, calcium, potassium chloride, lithium, and other trace minerals. They are known for their high salt content and at one time were called “Salt Springs.”
• MP 17: Scott Creek is an area where portions of the Scott Trail are still visible in places. In 1862 Felix Scott Jr. headed a party of 50 men, 900 head of cattle and 9 freight wagons over the McKenzie Pass following an old Indian trail.
• MP 11: Carmen Smith Hydroelectric Project includes three reservoirs, Carmen, Smith, and Trail Bridge. Picnicking, camping, hiking trails, fishing, and boat launching facilities are all part of this complex. Family picnic and overnight camping sites are at Carmen Diversion Reservoir, Trail Bridge and Lake’s End on the upper tip of Smith Reservoir.
• MP 7: Lava Flows dating back 3,000 years dot the landscape. The ancient bed of the McKenzie River was blocked by lava, creating the spectacular falls, which this area is famous for. Magma from Belknap Crater, more than 10 miles away, flowed into the Tamolitch Canyon as recently as 1,500 years ago.
• MP 5: Koosah Falls (meaning sky in Chinook) were once called the middle falls as the second in a series of three. You can follow a trail from Koosah to Sahalie Falls, located just east of here.
• MP 4: Sahalie Falls (means high in Chinook) are over 100 feet tall. Plenty of off-road parking, bathrooms, and wheel chair accessible ramps to a deck below the falls. A hiking trail leads downstream to Koosah Falls.
• MP 2: Clear Lake headwaters of the McKenzie River, is a 1.5 mile long, crystal clear lake with a maximum depth of 195 feet and an average temperature of 43 degrees. The lake, which occupies the bed of an ancestral upper McKenzie River, lies behind a dam formed by lava flows from Sand Mountain cinder cones about 3,000 years ago. Large preserved trees with radiocarbon ages of approximately 2,900 years are submerged in the lake and are clearly visible. The Clear Lake Resort provides cabins, rowboat rentals (no motor boats allowed, but bring your canoe), a lunch counter and general store.
• MP 0.5: Fish Lake is a site filled with history. Pioneers began traveling on the Old Santiam Wagon Road in the 1860’s. This area was a stopover with a hotel and livery to accommodate travelers. The Forest Service established the Fish Lake Remount Station beside the lake and after 1910 the station was used as summer headquarters of the old Santiam Nation Forest. The old buildings have been renovated for overnight rental and are reminiscent of a living museum. Fish Lake, which goes dry in the summer, was formed 3,800 years ago when lava vents blocked Hackleman Creek.
• MP 0: This is the Junction of Highways 126 & 20: A left turn at this point leads to Sweet Home and eventually I-5. Turning right leads over the Santiam Pass to the city of Sisters. If you decide on the Sisters route you can pick up the Old McKenzie Pass Scenic Byway and continue back down Hwy. 242, ending up in the community of McKenzie Bridge.